Peru travel advice: is country safe amid violent protests and is Machu Picchu still closed?

Machu Picchu is closed after civil unrest ripples throughout Peru

Machu Picchu is now closed after ongoing protests against Peru’s new president have spread throughout the nation.

People were evacuated from the iconic site at the weekend, with the country’s tourism minister, Luis Fernando Helguero, confirming that 417 tourists had been left stranded at the attraction.

But why has Machu Picchu closed and why is the country protesting? Here is what you need to know.

Why is Machu Picchu closed? 

Political unrest throughout Peru led officials to close the Incan citadel indefinitely on Saturday (20 January) after the decision was made “to protect the safety of tourists and the population in general.” Around 300 of the visitors in the area were tourists.

Protests have broken out in certain areas since December 2022, when supporters of the ousted president Pedro Castillo started staging demonstrations.

New clashes have been reported in Cusco - the gateway to the nearby Inca Trail and the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. Hundreds of people who were stuck for hours at the foot of the 15th Century Inca citadel have now been rescued.

Rail services to Machu Picchu were suspended on Thursday (19 January) after some train tracks were damaged, allegedly by protesters.

In a statement, cultural authorities in Cusco said that "in view of the current social situation in which our region and the country are immersed, the closure of the Inca trail network and Machu Picchu has been ordered, as of 21 January and until further notice".

Peru’s culture ministry said that those who had already bought tickets for the site would be able to use them for one month after the end of the demonstrations or get a refund.

Why are protesters demonstrating in Peru? 

Protests began after congress removed president Pedro Castillo on 7 December 2022, who was arrested and sentenced to 18 months of pre-trial detention following rebellion charges.

He was mired in multiple corruption investigations and attempted to illegally dissolve congress ahead of the impeachment vote. His vice president, Dina Boluarte, took over the role and became Peru’s sixth president in five years. However, protesters are demanding Boluarte’s resignation, congress’ closure, a new constitution and Castillo’s release.

There have also been marches calling for the end of the unrest. Human rights groups have accused authorities of using firearms on protesters and dropping smoke bombs from helicopters but the army says protesters have used weapons and homemade explosives.

Are protests causing disruption?

Protesters have attempted to take over the city’s airport, used by tourists to access the area, which has left 37 civilians and six police officers injured, according to health workers. Airports in Arequipa and the southern city of Juliaca were also attacked by demonstrators.

Peruvian newspaper El Comercio has reported protests and road blockades against Boluarte’s government and in support of Castillo broke out in the south. Last week on 16 January, 17 people were killed in clashes with police in the city of Juliaca, near Lake Titicaca. Protesters later attacked and burned a police officer to death.

In the latest clashes, roads were blocked and police fired tear gas at stone-throwing demonstrators in the capital, Lima. The European Union has condemned the widespread violence and what it called the "disproportionate" use of force by the police. In a statement, it called for "urgent steps to restore calm".